Ifá, the Òrìṣà of destiny and wisdom
Ifá, the Òrìṣà of destiny and wisdom
Human intelligence is very efficient when it comes to posing questions but much less so in terms of providing answers. Everyone has questions to ask and everyone would like to receive answers; however, people who can offer them are extremely rare. To answer a question, to make something understandable, to translate — this is the most demanding task. It is the ability limited to only a handful of intellectually or spiritually privileged individuals. Although human wisdom is capable of reaching this supreme level, there is a need for someone to guide us. We must find answers somewhere.
Ifá priests and priestesses have the answers to numerous life questions. They uncover them by using the divination system called Ifá either through the manipulation of the ikin seeds or ọ̀pẹ̀lẹ̀.
Every day has 24 hours, offering us ample opportunity to turn inwards, and yet the majority spends most of the time posing questions. And even when people are not doing that, they are inundated with questions from others in everyday conversations that may touch upon any topic. In the Òrìṣà philosophy, we understand that humans are full of doubts and uncertainties and that they feel a profound urge to understand the period of time they are in and develop their self-awareness within the temporal dimension. Every human being has a vital need for answers regardless of whether their inquiries are interconnected or not. We receive answers from Òrìṣà Ifá-Ọ̀rúnmìlà. During the divination process, we turn to the consultee’s Orí to get to know their predestination, which is manifested through the odù that reveals answers. Therefore, Ifá-Ọ̀rúnmìlà is regarded as the Òrìṣà of wisdom who can uncover the secret of life.
During the Ifá divination, two Òrìṣà are always present: Ifá-Ọ̀rúnmìlà and Èṣù.
Ọ̀rúnmìlà, also referred to as Ifá, is the one who possesses knowledge and serves as the diviner for the people and the divinities, using the Ifá divination system as his means of communication.
The means for performing a divination are:
– ọ̀pẹ̀lẹ̀ and ikin. They are being manipulated by bàbáláwo and ìyánífá. Whenever a divination is performed using ọ̀pẹ̀lẹ̀ or ikin, the words of Ifá-Ọ̀rúnmìlà are conveyed through 256 odù and other expressions of Ifá heritage.
– 16 cowries. They are being manipulated by bàbálórìṣà and ìyálórìṣà. During the divination with 16 cowries, all the Òrìṣà respond through 16 odù.
With their specific Àṣẹ (the energy of realization, a blessing) all Òrìṣà can improve the destiny of their worshippers. For example, the Òrìṣà Ògún fosters strategic abilities, creative energy, and skills, the Òrìṣà Ọbalúwayé attracts the power of healing, and the goddess Ọ̀ṣun brings about sweetness and loveliness by promoting the virtues of persistence, forgiveness, mental stability, and courage. However, the Òrìṣà most closely associated with destiny is Ifá-Ọ̀rúnmìlà, the one who contributes the most to the favourable destiny of his children as a whole – this is the Òrìṣà who provides answers to people’s queries and alleviates their doubts, thereby filling those who truly listen with wisdom. No human knows when a female snail is bearing eggs, but it is said that Ifá-Ọ̀rúnmìlà is so wise that he is knowledgeable even of this fact. The meaning of this metaphor is clear; it indicates that no secret is unknown to Ifá-Ọ̀rúnmìlà.
Èṣù and Ifá-Ọ̀rúnmìlà: faithful friends
In the Yoruba cosmology, Èṣù and Ifá-Ọ̀rúnmìlà are inseparable friends who work together and complement each other. The Òrìṣà Èṣù symbolizes order, discipline, and organization – the principles that determine the path of human existence and assist in the fulfilment of human destiny symbolized by Ifá-Ọ̀rúnmìlà. Furthermore, Èṣù is present during the Ifá initiation and during the spiritual consultation with the Ifá wisdom. Èṣù is also one of the Òrìṣà responsible for transferring the ẹbọ to its final destination and, on the other hand, for bringing the blessing of all the Òrìṣà to the worshipper who makes an offering.
The mission of Ifá-Ọ̀rúnmìlà is to recognize problems and their possible solutions, which may include the performance of rituals. The role of the Òrìṣà Èṣù is to accompany various offerings to their final destination and to establish communication between the worshipper and the Òrìṣà. Èṣù and Ifá-Ọ̀rúnmìlà also let the priests know which Òrìṣà, ancestors included, the worshippers must honour and grant them the wisdom they need to protect their learners.
Because of his importance during the Ifá initiation, Èṣù is on equal footing with Ifá. The infinite wisdom of Ifá-Ọ̀rúnmìlà and Èṣù works in unison, wielding a positive influence over their worshippers.
There are several types of destiny: individual, family, group, and collective.
INDIVIDUAL DESTINY is the one every human being is born with that is connected to the destiny of his or her Orí. Why are we born into a certain family and in a certain country? Why does someone become a teacher or a doctor or choose another occupation? Why are some of us men and others women? Why do some get rich while others live in poverty? Why are we religious or atheist, worshippers or priests? All this is an integral part of someone’s individual destiny. Our destiny is always responsible for bad luck in our life. The lack of courage, persistence, wisdom, discipline, and responsibility as well as the presence of stupidity and stubbornness undoubtedly alter the path of our life.
FAMILY DESTINY is the destiny that influences all members of a certain family. While some family units are plagued by trauma, others are not. It is important to know your family origin because we inherit a lot more than just genes. The Òrìṣà cult makes us stronger and enables us to minimize the devastating influences of our ancestors while also helping us develop their virtues.
GROUP DESTINY – All human beings establish relationships and socialize in groups where all individuals function as one single collective unit striving to achieve goals that are shared by each individual member. Orí forces everyone to participate in different groups and to coexist with other people: this is a basic human need. The group destiny is established and guided by an event that creates synchronization between individual destinies: in this way, a certain group may experience a collective tragedy or achieve something that is essentially the sum of all the efforts exerted by each individual group member.
COLLECTIVE DESTINY includes individuals, families, and entire groups. For example, all inhabitants of a certain country share the same president. The collective destiny is the one that influences all of us simultaneously: when it doesn’t rain, it doesn’t rain for anybody.
Everyone’s destiny is determined by individual, family, group, and collective factors. However, the mere fact that a person is destined for something does not necessarily mean that this destiny will actually manifest itself. It is to be expected, for instance, that different people have varying degrees of intelligence, work ethic, and patience. And these are the exact factors that contribute decisively to our success or failure. Therefore, it is more appropriate to use the word “predestination”.
We also call it the destiny of predestination because its fulfilment depends on a number of different factors. Destiny is not abstract: it is an amalgamation of efforts that must be made and actions that must be taken in life. Furthermore, it is influenced by different values and characteristics, including one’s patience, strategic abilities, ancestors, and even one’s Àṣẹ, the life force that may be great, weak, or simply inadequate to enable someone to fully realize their destiny. We are all endowed with certain talents, but not everyone is capable of identifying and developing them or using them to unlock the potential of their Àṣẹ, be it great or small. To be able to win the lottery, you must first buy a lottery ticket: the winning combination alone is simply not enough.
Referring to destiny, it is worth mentioning that the cult of Ifá worship reveals that we need to find the wisdom and the values within ourselves in order to reach our own goals. We need to recognize and develop our own talents as well.
EMOTIONAL INSTABILITY is the very first problem we encounter in relation to our destiny.
Human mind, memory, perception, intellectual capacity, emotions, and reason are wholly inconsistent. In fact, they are so inconsistent that it is almost impossible to achieve balance and preserve the same state of mind, pursue the same goals, retain the same level of persistence and work enthusiasm, or keep an intense focus for ten or twenty years. This is a virtually impossible task because internal and external turbulences influence our predestination and try to lead us astray, often managing to do just that. These turbulences usually occur within a family, among a group of friends, or in a broader environment. We can seek support from Ifá – either by undergoing an initiation or with the help of spiritual guidance – to find ways to overcome such obstacles.
When we talk about predestination, each one of us must contribute their share.
Let us presume that some people were predestined to experience great love. But how can people meet the love of their life if they never leave the house and refuse to let anyone get close? And how could an annoying, conceited, and unbalanced person keep a romantic relationship going? How do we solve this puzzle? People who find themselves in such circumstances have a very constricted energy, and their personal life is completely blocked because they neglect important factors of life that would facilitate the manifestation of their predestination.
Exactly the same is happening in the field of finance: many people are predestined to be rich upon birth, but they subsequently adopt a stance that is completely at odds with this and squander their potential. If a retailer, for instance, wants to cunningly take advantage of someone, they succeed once or maybe twice, but then they need to find someone else to do business with. Eventually, they start losing their clients and their business fails because cunningness is universally despised. Have they been dealt a bad hand in life? Is bad luck an inherent part of their destiny? Not necessarily. It is entirely possible that their bad character and dubious actions negatively interfere with what is otherwise a favourable destiny. The Òrìṣà philosophy does not tolerate cunningness, promoting intelligence, coherency, and common sense instead.
We must never allow ”the destiny phenomenon” to supersede our personal responsibility, sound judgement, dignity, effort, and common sense. We must abandon the false belief that destiny is magical: nobody is a winner simply because he or she is fortunate. It is wrong to believe that people achieve success only because they were born under a lucky star. On the other hand, the opposite is just as misguided; no one experiences failure after failure because of bad luck, an unfavourable destiny, or God’s will. Things simply do not work that way.
Destiny becoming reality is not just the matter of good luck versus bad luck. It is a simple game of good and evil. The easiest way to ensure that the things that were destined for us actually come to be is to trigger their manifestation through our own actions rooted in a profound sense of dignity and responsibility.
Our destiny is manifested based on the things that already exist. Human character, efforts, dignity, responsibility, prudence, common sense, persistence, and resilience all contribute to its realization. Furthermore, humans are also capable of reshaping their destiny by practicing spirituality, which inevitably leads to improvement. And these are just some of the most important reasons for deciding to undergo an Ifá initiation.
Source: published with permission of the author Bàbá King – taken from:
Ifá revista, January 2011, © Sikiru Salami 2011 (special edition Oduduwa Templo dos Orixás), all rights reserved. Without prior written permission, it is forbidden to copy or publish the text in its entirety or in part — this applies to the photos and other articles from the magazine as well. The author has granted a permission to publish articles translated into Slovenian, Italian, German, Croatian, English, and Serbian language to the Spiritual Community of the Òrìṣà – Energies of Nature.